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25 Dead Brilliant Scottish Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know

25 Dead Brilliant Scottish Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know

Whether you’re looking to impress your friends or planning to visit Scotland soon, it’s best to have a few trivia pieces up your sleeve.

The Scots have a tonne of quirky and interesting facts about their culture, people, and history that we’re sure you never knew.

So have a seat as we give you dead brilliant Scottish facts we bet you didn’t know!

1. The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal.

The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal
Image: BBC

While one could argue that having a real animal as a national icon is rather mainstream, the unicorn has a rich cultural significance and says a lot about the Scottish identity.

The unicorn was first seen in the 12th century on the royal coat of arms of William I. In many historical pieces, the mythical creature’s neck and body was wrapped in chains of gold.

As a national symbol for the Scot, the unicorn represents innocence, purity, grace, power, and masculinity. The brilliant duality of what the unicorn stands for is rather intriguing, don’t you think?

2. Scotland has the second-most number of redheads.

The only other country that can compete with the Irish when it comes to having the most redheads in their population is Scotland.

In fact, about 6% of Scottish residents are gingers, just 4% shy of Ireland’s. 

Hence, it’s no surprise that when someone sees a redhead, it’s often assumed that they originated from either Ireland or Scotland.

3. The oldest tree in all of Europe is from Scotland.

The oldest tree in all of Europe is the Fortingall Yew, which is an ancient European yew. It can be found at the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire.

While no one knows the tree’s exact age, it’s believed that it’s anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 years old.

However, the plaque on it says that it’s 4,000 years old, perhaps making the Fortingall Yew the oldest living thing in the entire continent.

4. The Edinburgh Castle sits on top of a dormant volcano.

While the Edinburgh castle provides astonishing views and a rich historical background, did you know that it’s actually sitting on top of a 350-year dormant volcano?

In fact, the rock where the Edinburgh Castle was built acts as the plug. The last time the volcano erupted was about 340 million years ago, which makes it extinct. 

It housed a tonne of historical figures dating back to the 12th century. From the 17th century onwards, it was then used as a military base. 

Now, it is a famous museum, actually landing the title of Scotland’s top paid-for tourist attraction and bagging first place at the UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards.

5. The first true TV demonstration was done by a Scot.

John Logie Baird was a brilliant mind, to say the least. Despite already having a patent from German scientist, Paul Nipkow, for the first television, it was Baird who was the leading inventor, being able to bring out discernible images on the screen.

Apart from inventing the first working TV ever, he created the first coloured one, too. If that’s not impressive enough, he did both in the same year. 

As an inventor and electrical engineer, he first started creating trails with the TV in the early 1920s, by 1923 he had his first patent, and then created his earliest prototype in 1925.

6. The Scots have an 800-year old clan system.

As early as the 12th century, clans existed to group families that shared a devotion and loyalty to a specific chief and ties to a particular piece of land where they lived. 

Many individuals have a deeply rooted history with their clans, some even going back numerous generations.

Today, clans are legally recognised, which gives each clan’s official chief the legal ability to use the Seal of Arms on behalf of their clan. 

7. The first coloured photograph was taken in Scotland.

James Clerk Maxwell had the brilliant suggestion to use a three-colour method, a thought experiment he came up with and had published in 1855. 

In essence, the three-color method meant taking three separate exposures, each in a red, green, and blue filter, of the tartan ribbon. 

Together with photographer Thomas Sutton, they took the world’s first photograph in 1861. 

You can view the black-and-white slides at the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation where they’re on permanent display. Meanwhile, the print is at the National Media Museum in Bradford, England.

8. Scotland has the world’s only rotating boat lift.

Scotland has the world’s only rotating boat lift.
Image: Live Breathe Scotland

What’s a boat lift, you ask? Well, it’s just as it sounds like – a lift for boats. It’s currently located in Tamfourhill, Falkirk, in central Scotland, the Falkirk Wheel.

The lift’s brilliant design allows it to hoist ferry boats onto a water-link which connects the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde Canal without much trouble.

The construction of this colossal marine architectural innovation started in the early 2000s and required over 1,000 tonnes of steel and 15,000 bolts. Overall, the project cost about 20 million pounds to create.

9. Scotland is the home of golf.

Scotland is the home of golf.
Image: Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

A well-loved sport anywhere in the globe, golf originated in 15th century Scotland. The first 18-hole course in the world was built in St Andrews Old Course, with records dating back to 1552.

Back in the day, players didn’t have lush courses or fancy clubs. Instead, they used pebbles to hit sand dunes using a bent stick or a club and typically played in the streets or churchyards. 

At one point, King James II even banned his citizens from playing both golf and football as these got in the way of their mandatory military training.

10. The first illustrated comic was published in Scotland.

The first illustrated comic was published in Scotland.
Image: Wee Windaes – National Library of Scotland

Widely considered “the father of comics”, the Glasgow Looking Glass (later renamed ‘The Northern Looking Glass’) is the world’s first mass-published illustrated comic book by draftsman William Heath.

Printed by John Watson, its first issue was released on June 11, 1825. The stories revolved around current local international news about everything Glasgow-related, from fashion to politics.

11. Water resistant fabric was invented in Scotland.

Water resistant fabric was invented in Scotland.
Image: Popular Mechanics

A self-taught chemist, Charles Macintosh was experimenting with different materials in his lab when he came across a pioneering discovery.

By painting coal-tar naptha or benzene onto one side of a piece of wool cloth and layering another piece of wool fabric, it became waterproof.

Unfortunately, this breakthrough didn’t take off just yet as it became hard in the wintertime and sticky in the summertime. 

It wasn’t until fellow scientist Thomas Hancock joined in on the fun and added more rubber to Macintosh’s original formulation.

12. There are over 100 green spaces nationwide.

There are over 100 green spaces nationwide.
Image: Visit Aberdeenshire

One of the most amazing things about Scotland is their love for green spaces. For any visitors, you’ll notice an abundance of landscapes of various sizes, characters, and shapes anywhere you go! 

In fact, there are said to be about 3,000 parks, woodlands, plant nurseries, and gardens nationwide, which promote low pollution levels. 

These also make great spots for taking walks or having picnics with loved ones.

13.  Scotland is home to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK.

Scotland is home to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK.
Image: The Guardian

With a summit standing at a whopping estimated 4,406 feet (1,343m) above sea level, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the entire British Isle. 

Despite the enticing challenge, hiking up Ben Nevis is no easy feat. There have been several casualties and rescues of many mountaineers attempting to climb the summit, especially in harsh conditions.

Nevertheless, if you’re fortunate enough to reach its peak, Ben Nevis provides a breathtakingly panoramic view of the highlands.

13. The only knighted penguin in the world lives in Edinburgh Zoo.

Pictured above is the world’s only knighted penguin – Sir Nils Olav when he was appointed knighthood. This was approved by none other than the king of Norway himself, King Harald V, in 2008 with an audience of 130 guardsmen.

Once a corporal in 1982, Sir Nils Olav has since made his way up the ranks. In 2016, he was promoted to Brigadier. 

Sir Nils Olav is a king penguin who was named after the organiser of his adoption process, Major Nils Egelien and King Olav, the King of Norway at the time.

You can say “hello” to Sir Nils Olav and his friends at Penguins Rock at the Edinburgh Zoo.

14. The Joker’s eerie smile actually originated in Glasgow.

The Joker’s eerie smile actually originated in Glasgow.
Image: Icy Tales

The smile-like scar on the face of the infamous supervillain The Joker, archenemy of Batman in The Dark Knight, is actually called “The Glasgow Smile” as it originated from Glasgow City. 

It was a torture method that involved carving demented grins across the corners of the victim’s mouth with a razor, knife, or anything sharp. 

It was primarily done by roving rival gangsters to one another in the late 19th century as several notorious organised criminal groups controlled various parts of the city.

15. The shortest non-stop commercial flight in the world take less than a minute.

The shortest non-stop commercial flight in the world take less than a minute.
Image: alexey starki on Unsplash

To travel from Westray to Papa Westray in Orkney (or vice versa), which is about 1.7 miles or 2.7 km apart, it’ll only take you less than a minute.

The shortest known flight time lasted just 53 seconds, but typically takes a mere 57 seconds. 

Alternatively, you can ride a ferry that’ll take just about 25 minutes for about £3 to £5 a ticket.

16. Orkney has the oldest preserved stone house.

Orkney has the oldest preserved stone house.
Image: Douglas Hourston on Papa Westray

A journey back in time to the Neolithic period, the Knap o’ Howar (also known as Knap of Howar) is the world’s oldest preserved stone houses, complete with standing walls and cupboards dating back at least 5 centuries.

They were found in the island of Papay in the 1930s when sea erosion revealed about 60 archaeological sites. 

Though none are as well-preserved as the Knap o’ Howar, two buildings built side-by-side with stone and linked together via a passageway. One was used as a residential area while the other a workshop.

17. Only a quarter of Scotland’s islands are inhabited.

Only a quarter of Scotland’s islands are inhabited.
Image: True Highlands

Despite having a little over 700 offshore islands within its territory, only about 93 of those actually have people living on them. 

In the earlier days, people lived on these islands raising cattle and goats. However, inhabitants began abandoning these areas in around 1912 and moving to Britain’s newer colonies.

Nevertheless, a couple of these islands are open for exploration with some even being used to shoot TV shows. This includes Castaway, a reality TV show shot in Taransay. 

18.  There’s free drinking water through taps across Scotland.

There’s free drinking water through taps across Scotland.
Image: Daily Record

In 2018, Scottish Water started their ‘Your Water Your Life’ campaign which aimed to encourage Scots to drink water directly from the tap.

To date, they have about 70 installed Top up Taps across the country where people can refill their bottles any time of the day and stay hydrated while they’re out and about.

According to recent statistics, about 69% of Scots have now been carrying a refillable bottle while on the go.

19. Mary, Queen of Scots, became queen at just 6 days old.

Mary, Queen of Scots, became queen at just 6 days old.
Image: The Royal Family

Mary, Queen of Scots, was appointed queen at just 6 days old. Given her age, her mother took charge until Mary was 18 years old. 

She was Queen Elizabeth I’s greatest rival for the throne as Mary was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England, which made her next in line after Henry VIII’s children. 

Mary was perceived to be the rightful ruler of England by the Catholic Church due to her direct lineage as Elizabeth I was as an illegitimate child, giving her no place in the line of succession. 

After a series of events brought about by their intense power struggle that lasted decades, Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth I. At 44, she was eventually killed by beheading for her involvement in plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I.

Second to whisky, the most popular drink in Scotland is Irn Bru.
Image: Scotsman Food and Drink

Everyone knows that the Scots love their whisky. But if they’re not drinking anything alcoholic, their glasses are filled with Irn Bru.

Irn Bru is a Scotland-made carbonated drink that comes in 32 different citrus flavours.  

This best-selling fizzy drink was first introduced by Barr’s in 1901. In fact, about 20 cans of Irn Bru are sold each second!

For those that haven’t tasted this Scottish favourite yet, the most popular flavour is orange. Many would say that it’s rather similar to a citrusy cream soda.

21. The Scots have their own version of the Olympics – the Highland Games.

The Scots have their own version of the Olympics – the Highland Games.
Image: BBC

The Highland Games dates back hundreds of years, making it a deeply rooted tradition in Scottish history. Just as its name suggests, the games are composed of traditional Highland sports. 

These include caber toss, hammer throw, and tug o’ war among others. Sometimes there are even discos and music gigs that last throughout the night.

Apart from that, they also have a ton of fairs and stalls where visitors can enjoy tasty Scottish food and drinks.

It’s usually held sometime in July through August, typically on a weekend. 

22. Wearing a kilt doesn’t require drawers.

While it may sound silly, it’s actually tradition for men wearing kilts to not wear any drawers or undergarments. 

It’s believed that this practice dates back to the days of WWI and originated as a military tradition. Even so, there’s very little solid evidence on how this actually came about.

Humorously, those who follow this “challenge” were deemed “true Scotsmen”. 

The only exception to this rule would be during the Highland Games, understandably.

23. Men wearing kilts also have a traditional knife worn in their sock.

Men wearing kilts also have a traditional knife worn in their sock.
Image: MacGregor and MacDuff

A practice dating back as early as the 1800s, men wearing kilts also secretly wore a traditional knife concealed within their socks. 

In Gaelic, the single-edged knife with ornate handles is called the Sgian Dubh, also commonly spelled as Skean Dhu. It directly translates to black (dubh) dagger (sgian).

As a sign of trust, friends would openly show their hidden weapons when they met. 

24. Bagpipes didn’t actually originate from Scotland.

Bagpipes didn’t actually originate from Scotland.
Image: Historic UK

Contrary to popular belief, bagpipes actually originated from the Middle East in Ancient Egypt. A shocker, we know.

After the Romans took over Egypt, they adopted the use of bagpipes. Hence, the iconic instrument eventually made its way to Scotland through the Roman invasion. 

Today, bagpipes play a big role in Scottish history and culture. They’re often played at weddings, funerals, town events, and birthdays.

25. Encyclopedia Britannica originated in Scotland.

Encyclopedia Britannica originated in Scotland.
Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

Arguably the most monumental encyclopedia to date, the Encyclopedia Britannica originated in Edinburgh. 

It was a two-man team, composed of Colin Macfarquhar and Andrew Bell. Macfarquhar was the designated printer while Bell was the engraver.

Their first issue was released in December 1768. It was about modern science and the Scottish identity with articles running more than 100 pages long.

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